Finding the Right HR Tech Vendor

It’s a decision fraught with consequences: Which vendor will be providing your human capital management software? Choose wisely and you’ll look like a hero. Make the wrong choice and your CEO will be angry and you could be out of a job.

At the HR Tech Conference, George LaRocque, principal analyst at the Starr Conspiracy, moderated a panel of three HR professionals — two from large and complex companies and one from a smaller firm — who discussed the processes they undergo in choosing their HR technology vendors.

At Coca-Cola Corp. and PricewaterhouseCoopers, both companies generally require an extensive request-for-proposal process involving lengthy reviews and security evaluations before choosing a vendor for a large project.

“We’re a compliance-driven company and if we make a mistake there are big ramifications, so we do security reviews of vendors, whittle the list down and then test, test and test,” said Martin Burns, PwC’s direct sourcing and technology channel lead. The company’s RFP process can take weeks of preparation and involves input from IT, legal and procurement. None of the panelists said their companies used analyst firms in helping them choose vendors, with PwC and Coca-Cola involving procurement early on in the process.

Getting a hands-on feel for a product is crucial, said Kristin McDonald, Coca-Cola’s global manager for employee engagement. “We also have an extensive RFP process, but I really love to pilot new tools, test them out and see what they can do.”

At JW Player, a video technology company founded several years ago, the process is less formal. “I am the RFP!” joked Jillian Moulton, the company’s HR director.

Although Burns and McDonald both agreed that they often had an idea of which vendor their company would end up choosing even before preparing an RFP, surprises still can occur.

“The RFP can help you determine whether there are some things a vendor just can’t do,” said Burns.

Ease-of-use is a primary concern in evaluating software options, the panelists said, as is the quality of a vendor’s customer-support team.

“The salespeople from the vendor I ended up choosing brought along their customer-support people for me to meet, and that really appealed to me,” said Moulton, who said scalability was also important to her firm because it is growing quickly.

“There have been instances in the past when I’ve been promised something by salespeople that the vendor ended up not being able to deliver,” said McDonald. “So it’s important to talk to the customer-support people early on, as well as customers, and to play with the product itself.”

It’s important to keep in mind that in many cases, you’re not just buying software — you’re also buying a relationship with the vendor and its employees, said Burns. If the vendor is staffed by unhappy, disengaged people, that’s a warning sign, he said. “If your experience with the vendor doesn’t start off well, it isn’t going to get any better.”

It’s why on-site visits to the vendor are important, said Burns. “Trust and culture matters — go and meet the product-development people, see whether there’s high turnover or not, if it’s a good place to work. If turnover is low, that’s a good sign.”

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